Music Review- The Stranger

Sam Walsh, Writer

‘The Stranger’ by Billy Joel

‘The Stranger,’ released in 1977, would come as Billy Joel’s fifth album and is perceived as a turning point in Joel’s career, going from a young up-and-comer to an established artist that produces quality albums.  The album received much higher ratings than his prior works and his later works would go on to continue this upward trend.  Joel’s writing career came to an end in the 90s for the most part, he now spends his time touring.  At least 5 of the 9 songs on this album are played regularly in concert, with others thrown in from time to time.  With that being said, it’s fairly easy to say that this was one of Joel’s most popular tracks.

At the time of release, music albums were split into two “sides.”  Sides refer to either side of the vinyl record, the first side would contain the songs that the artist felt would be most popular and the second side would be the songs that were presumed to be less popular.  Upon the album’s initial release, the first side’s songs were a hit, but as time went on, the second side’s songs rose in popularity, arguably to the point that they have now surpassed the first side.

The first side of the album opens with “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” which is the only song that has retained its initial popularity.  The song is about the working-class people of New York and holds an upbeat melody throughout.  The rest of the first side, while initially popular, has fallen out of fashion since the album’s release. “The Stranger”, “Just the Way You Are”, and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, all make solid additions to the album, without being headliners.

The second side of the album is the part I am most excited to talk about.  It opens with the two most popular songs to date, the first of which is “Only the Good Die Young.”  This song is about a girl that Joel had a crush on in high school, yet was strictly catholic and could not date yet.  The next song, “Vienna,” was written by Joel after a trip to Austria to visit his father.  While there he saw an old man outside sweeping the streets and felt pity for her having to work at such an old age.  Joel then found out that the woman wanted to feel like she was contributing to society and that Europeans have a different view of life.  The final two songs of the album fit more into the second-side idea of music recording and were less popular.

Overall ‘The Stranger’ was undoubtedly one of Billy Joel’s best albums, both today and yesterday.  While it wasn’t perfect, nothing is.  This album gave Joel the boost he needed in his career and by giving it a listen, it gave a boost to my day.  He has a way of telling stories when he sings and that’s something I can appreciate.